In praise of editors

It's been radio silence here for the past several weeks for two reasons. First, my husband and I packed up our lives and moved temporarily to Toronto (more on that later) and second, I'm deep in the throes of editing The Boat People.

Editing on this level, with the guidance and wisdom of actual professionals, is a completely new experience. For one thing it is DEMANDING. You know, I thought the manuscript was pretty good, nearly ready for publication, to be honest. But dear Reader, it was not. Not even close.

Here is the best analogy I've come up with: Writing a novel by yourself is like furnishing a house with the lights off. You feel around a bit, blindly, trying to get a sense of each room, how they fit together, their size. You throw paint on the walls, lay the carpets down. You can't see what colour anything is but it's dark so you don't know the difference. Then your writing group comes over. They help you move the furniture around. Still no one knows how the electrical works so you're fumbling in the dark. It seems pretty good though. You've even hung the art. It's nearly ready for the open house.

Then the editor arrives and flips a switch. Light floods in. Surprise! There's a hammock in the bathroom and a bed in the kitchen. Also, your editor is an interior designer. Now the novel looks completely different. You understand its real potential. You see which chapters must be added, the storylines that should be cut, the themes that need to be brought forward. Good editors call out your lazy writing (in a nice way, lazy writing is my phrase, not theirs), point out the scenes that are begging for catharsis, ask thought-provoking questions.

See what I mean about demanding? Basically you must re-paint all the walls, toss out some carpets and re-arrange half the furniture. And then you have to clean it all up. But it's also worth it. I'm nearly two thirds of the way through the first round (the toughest round, I'm assured) of professionally-aided revisions and already I can see how much stronger and richer The Boat People will be.

The next time you finish a good book, spare a thought for the editor(s) involved. They are the magicians behind the curtain.